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Colorado Has Areas Of High And Low COVID-19 Numbers, And Varied Willingness To Mask

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We're checking in now on how the new masking recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are being received across the country. Those guidelines now say that even vaccinated people should wear masks while inside public spaces, at least in areas where transmission numbers are high. Now, Colorado has a mix of places with high and low numbers, and it's seen a mix of political responses to this new federal guidance. John Daley covers health for Colorado Public Radio and joins us now.

Welcome.

JOHN DALEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. So what does the mix of transmission rates look like in Colorado? Like, are there a lot of places where people should be wearing masks indoors according to the new guidance?

DALEY: You know, right now, a little more than half of the counties in Colorado have transmission rates above 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in a week. That includes El Paso County with a population of about 70,000 people all the way down to Cheyenne County, where only about 2,000 people live.

CHANG: OK, and how are people feeling in Colorado? Like, is there any appetite to change masking rules or return to mask mandates because of this new guidance?

DALEY: You know, it seems pretty limited. Governor Jared Polis has been criticized by some county health officials during the pandemic for being slow to issue or reissue restrictions when case numbers climb. The governor's office is reviewing the CDC recommendation, and it says counties can take action on their own. Last year, Polus did issue a statewide mass mandate, and it got good compliance in many urban areas. But it also led to angry protests and conflicts in some of the same counties that are now under the CDC recommendation. So, you know, at this point, there doesn't seem to be the appetite for another mandate. So the state is urging all eligible Coloradans to get vaccinated and without delay.

CHANG: Well, what are you hearing at the county level?

DALEY: Well, the mask recommendation does not for now at least cover Denver and several other metro area counties, but it does apply to some pretty big urban ones. Dr. John Douglas leads the Tri-County Health Department in the metro Denver area. His jurisdiction is at or near the CDC's threshold for the new indoor mask recommendation. He says a massive mandate is unlikely now, but that could change if case rates keep rising and vaccination rates don't go up.

JOHN DOUGLAS: I don't think mandating masking is out of the question, but honestly, I'd much rather see us through voluntary measures get vaccination to increase because that's the name of the game.

DALEY: Now, the number of new vaccinations in Colorado has stalled for about the last month, and at this point, more than just half of all Coloradans have now been fully vaccinated.

CHANG: Well, what about schools? What are they doing? Because students under 12 still can't get vaccinated.

DALEY: You know, that's a huge question, and many districts need to be scrambling about what to do. The CDC guidance says all students, along with teachers, staff and visitors, should wear masks, and that's regardless of whether they've been vaccinated against COVID-19. The head of Denver Public Schools, Alex Marrero, says feedback from parents on a mask requirement is about 50/50. And he's not sure what the district will do.

ALEX MARRERO: Because of the feedback, right? So we're community leaders, right? So if the community is wanting something different, then I think we have to at least discuss that. So it's not as if we're not going to default that way. It's probable, but to be determined.

DALEY: At this point, Denver County isn't above the CDC's threshold for recommending indoor masking, but that could change. And if local public health departments of the state don't order mandates, school districts have to decide to do that on their own. So at least at this point, Ailsa, I think we're looking at a patchwork approach to mask requirements.

CHANG: That is Colorado Public Radio's John Daley in Denver.

Thank you, John.

DALEY: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.